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Senate eyes 15-day jobless benefit extension

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With 1.2 million people set to lose their unemployment checks starting next week, the Senate is looking to extend the deadline to file for federal jobless benefits by 15 days.

Lawmakers have yet to set a date to vote on the measure.

Without an extension beyond the Feb. 28 deadline, people receiving state jobless benefits won't be able to apply for additional federally paid unemployment insurance, and anyone already receiving those checks could be cut off. They also won't be able to sign up for the 65% federal subsidy for COBRA unemployment insurance.

Lawmakers were on track in mid-February to introduce legislation that would have extended the deadline for the two benefits to May 31, at a cost of $25 billion over 10 years. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., then decided to offer a slimmed-down job creation package that did not include the provision.

In December, the House passed a $154 billion job creation package that extended the deadline to June 30. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week urged her Senate colleagues to pass a more comprehensive jobs measure.

The 15-day extension would give lawmakers more time to enact a longer fix, but it left them the object of scorn from consumer advocates, who want benefits extended through 2010.

"The extended benefits program will be needed for another year at least, so a 15-day extension makes no sense," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute. "Extending the program for only 15 days will force the states to twist themselves into knots to restart the program while simultaneously preparing to shut it down again. This is waste and abuse."

Essential benefits

About 11.5 million people currently depend on jobless benefits. Nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work and a record 41.2% of the jobless have been unemployed for at least six months. The average unemployment period lasts a record 30.2 weeks.

While unemployment benefits now run as long as 99 weeks, depending on the state, not everyone will receive checks for that long a stretch. Those who run out of their 26 weeks of state-paid coverage after Feb. 28 would not be able to apply for federal benefits, unless an extension is approved.

Without an extension, the jobless currently receiving extended federal benefits, who are divided into tiers, would stop getting checks once they complete their tier. To top of page

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